Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chincoteague Dining Revisited

Years ago I made a detailed post about dining in my most favorite vacation spot, Chincoteague Island, Virginia.  Chincoteague is truly a special and magical spot.  You have never seen such pristine, untouched beaches as you see on Assateague.  There is wildlife everywhere you look (it's a bird nerd's paradise).  The locals are friendly - so much so that we consider many of them to be friends after returning for so many years.  All of this is besides that special herd of wild ponies that are part of the annual round up who inspired books and movies.

The only problem I have with Chincoteague (if you can call it a problem) is the food.  Chincoteague is an island - in other words it is surrounded by water.  Water means seafood, and Chincoteague is well known for its blue crabs (it's just over the Maryland border after all) and its salty oysters.  It's also not known as a hotspot for fine dining.  What is a picky eater and seafood hater to do?

I always find something to eat at every type of restaurant.  Some places satisfy me more than others.  For this post I will revisit some old favorites who might have missed being photographed the last time and also show off some new kids on the block.  For years I never did another review of Chincoteague restaurants because the restaurants never changed.  Lately some new places have moved in.  They deserve a little attention.

So let me recap some of the food I ate last week.  Come along with me on a culinary journey of the most beautiful place in the world.

The day I arrive in Chincoteague I always have to stop for lunch at my favorite lunch spot The Sea Star Cafe.
They used to be on Main Street overlooking the bay, but moved to this charming little building on one of the many inland creeks.  The seating area is lovely, but I never wanted to sit there because it seemed like a haven for mosquitoes.

Sea Star is strictly a lunch place.  It serves all kinds of interesting sandwiches and at least one soup of the day each day.  Everything is very fresh, including the breads.  This is one of the few places on Chincoteague where vegetarians aren't wringing their hands wondering what they can eat.  They also have some fun beverages like flavored fresh iced teas and homemade lemonade.
The only drawback is that they don't have much staff.  One person takes the orders and money and another person makes the food and sends it out.  The wait is worth it though.  If you're from NY and used to everything happening fast, Chincoteague can be a little frustrating no matter where you go, but you learn to just accept it and get used to it.
We took our sandwiches back to our sunny waterside hotel lobby to eat away from the heat and the skeeters.  I enjoyed a smoked turkey and brie sandwich with a side of gazpacho and a big glass of blueberry iced tea.
Sea Star isn't the only lunch place in town though.  This year we had a new little gem to explore: Poseidon's Pantry.
Chincoteague isn't a completely backward town.  It has its share of decent food shops and specialty foods.  Poseidon's Pantry tops them all.  I saw stuff in there I don't even see often at home let alone in Chincoteague.  Their deli case had two kinds of pate`, chorizo, and some various imported cheeses.  They have a whole wall of bacon-flavored foods. 
 Their motto is "Eat Healthy...Or Not."  They can rival Sea Star for their vegetarian sandwiches, or you can put bacon on just about anything.

This sandwich is called a Green and Red.  It has spinach, roasted pepper, tomato, pesto, and goat cheese - delicious.  The next time I went I took the "not" route and had a "frenchie" sandwich that consisted of roast beef, caramelized onions, and gruyere. 
For years Chincoteague never seemed to have new restaurants, but there seems to be a bit of a Renaissance.  Recently the new Chincoteague Diner opened on the Island.
This building once housed the Sea Shell Cafe, one of the few new places that have opened since I began going there.  I reviewed it in my last Chincoteague post.  I thought it tried hard, but it failed to deliver.  I thought that they had a lot of potential and could be really good.  Sadly, they never lived up to their potential.  The food never improved (even a new chef couldn't save it) and the service was terrible.  I never ate there again, but my family did and they had nothing positive to report.  The online reviews were just as bad.  They finally went out of business and the Chincoteague Diner took over.

I love this little pony rug you see on the floor when you walk in.

If the old Sea Shell was an attempt at fine dining in Chincoteague, the new diner was put in that building to be the polar opposite.  This cozy and homey little building doesn't serve any sort of fancy food.  It's diner food, plain and simple.

I had chicken fried steak for my dinner.  It's not easy to get chicken fried steak in my neck of the woods, so I always have it when I can get it.  This is the best chicken fried steak I ever had.  (Eat your heart out Pioneer Woman.) 

They asked if I wanted the same gravy on my mashed potatoes.  I said to just put the same gravy over everything.  I'm not above having two kinds of gravy on my plate though.

 Diners are meant for breakfast, right?  Kevin had an omelet.  He asked for turkey sausage on the side, but the chef got confused and put it in his omelet.  Then the server corrected him and said the sausage was supposed to be on the side.  So Kevin ended up with double sausage.

For dessert we returned to my beloved Island Creamery.  Yes, I reviewed it in my last Chincoteague post, but it deserves all of the love and attention I can give it. 

Java Jolt.  Coffee ice cream with brownie chunks and chocolate espresso beans.
One place I had to return to was Woody's Beach Barbecue (If you click on this link, be prepared for the music).  I love this place.  Just like with the Island Creamery, it was reviewed previously, but I need to give it as much love as possible.  It's mostly a takeout place with a few picnic tables, but even if you don't eat there, you want to spend lots of time hanging out there.
It's an authentic barbecue joint.  They have the big smoker.

Note the sign above the concession.  Decoy carving is a popular art form on Chincoteague and for many years there was a large museum dedicated to the craft on the island.  It closed a few years ago and recently the entire inventory (millions of dollars worth) was auctioned off.  It appears that Woody's bought a piece of the action.  It's not terribly clear, but the sign is a remnant of the museum and says, "Refuge Waterfowl Museum" on it.

Pulled pork and homemade sauce, baked beans, cole slaw, and their amazing fried corn nuggets, eaten on the waterfront hotel patio at sunset.  Also barbecued chicken. 

The next day was Pony Swim day.  That meant getting up well before sunrise and meeting our boat at 4:30 to take us to the swim site.  Our wonderful captain, Captain Barry, always lubricates the long wait with fresh mimosas.  He squeezes the juice right on board.
Barry makes us breakfast too.  We get bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches that he cooks on a little grill.  He thinks of everything.

We needed some of that booze and grease to ease into the day.  That bright sunshine you see in these photos very suddenly and unexpectedly gave way to horrible storm clouds just as the tide went slack and the ponies were ready to be sent over.  It was too late to send them back.  Those poor ponies had a tough morning.

The next night we met up with the whole family for a family dinner at Etta's Channel Side restaurant.  It is in a beautiful location on the east side of the island overlooking Assateague Channel and Assateague Island.  Lucky people get to watch the Pony Swim from there.  It has a great view, but I had a hard time taking a photo from their screened porch where we ate that night.  I just have the front view.

It's a steak.  It wasn't the best steak I ever had, but it was cooked to my liking.  I wanted the pork chops, but they were "out" of pork chops.  They are often "out" of certain items on the menu at Etta's.  It's not much of a landlubber's restaurant.

I was way more excited about dessert.  This was a delicious caramel cream puff.  Since I knew I had to behave myself and follow my diet somewhat this week, I made Kevin share it with me.  He wasn't happy about that.  I never gave him a chance to order anything.  I just told the server, "We're sharing the caramel cream puff." 

Our final night was at Bill's Seafood.  Again this was a family dinner.  I did review this in my last post, but I never took pictures, so I thought I'd revisit it in the blog.

This place doesn't look like much on the outside.  Over the years it has improved in the interiors both décor-wise and food-wise.  In the old days the décor was quite plain and they served only beer and cheap individual bottles of Sutter Home wine.  They decorated the place a little nicer over the years and added a full bar.  Most New Yorkers wouldn't call it fine dining, but it's downright elegant by Chincoteague standards.

Pomegranate martini.  I love that they added a full bar.

I seem to order this dish every time I come here.  It's a pork shank with barbecue sauce.  It's served atop the world's most sinful mashed potatoes.  They are filled with ham bits and cheddar cheese.  It's impossible to finish this in one night, but it's worth making the effort.  It's so good!

Kevin was adamant that he wanted his own dessert that night.  No sharing allowed!  When he saw this piece of cake in front of him, he changed his tune.  It was huge.  He shared it not only with me, but with the entire table.  I don't think the seven of us were able to finish it either.

We packed up and went home the next day.  Nothing makes me sadder than leaving Chincoteague.  It is one of my favorite places in the world.  I gained five pounds that week, but it was totally worth it.  I'm doing my best to detox now.  My coach wanted me to do a vegan challenge for a day.  I did it too, but my vegan recipe, though it tasted good, wasn't really TERP-worthy enough to post.  I do hope to have some new recipes up soon.


Sue said...

I LOVE going on vacation and never picking up a pot or pan! It sounds like a great time, except for the scary pony crossing. There were so many different kinds of places you went to, which always keeps it interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Blond Duck said...

I need chicken fried steak now.

Blond Duck said...

Hope you're doing well!

Laura said...

It makes me sad that many restaurants here on the island don't offer more locally caught seafood and locally grown produce on the menu...since we have an abundance of both here on the Eastern Shore. Lots of new choices opening up this year! A chinese/sushi place where the Dairy Queen was on the turn circle. A made to order donut truck that also has shaved ice. Another Mexican truck by His & Hers shrimp stand on Maddox. Looking forward to trying the new spots! Also, the grocery store has really come up a few notches since it changed hands. Good things happening here on Chincoteague!